Ah, Labor Day. Let’s keep this short and let everyone enjoy their day off. Iowa Kirk Ferentzed its way to a way too close for comfort, 8-point win over a FCS team. But as bad as it felt at times, if Iowa had cleaned up its coverage between the linebackers and safety, and they were able to at least slow down David Johnson coming out of the backfield, then we’d probably be talking about a comfortable double digit win. As it was, Iowa did enough and just enough to start 1-0.
Get Something Going in the Passing Game
I was surprised by all the negative reviews on Jake Rudock’s game. I thought he was very effective. He completely 75% of his 41 passes for 250 yards with 2 TDs and no interceptions. He also added 17 yards on the ground and wasn’t sacked. He got into his rhythm early with some short throws, taking what the UNI defense gave him. They were stacking the box bringing down a safety, but the other safety with the 2 corners were covering the deep thirds. So the short stuff was there and Rudock recognized that. As soon as UNI started pressing more and the deep routes opened up, Rudock took his couple of shots down field and that led to a pass interference call and a 46-yarder to Derrick Willies that set up the game securing score.
One of the most positive part is that Iowa looks to have three really good possession receivers in Kevonte Martin-Manley, who picked up some 3rd down conversions and finished with 8 catches, Jake Duzey, the favorite TE target, and Damon Bullock out of the backfield. They also look to have three big play receivers. Tevaun Smith’s TD grab was ridiculous. Willies made the one aforementioned deep catch, and the Damond Powell jail-break screen made another appearance for a TD. (Side note: UNI had the screen completely scouted out, which was a theme for a lot of Iowa’s plays. As soon as Powell lined up, the cornerback was shouting and pointing. But Iowa blocked the play well enough that the only person with any shot at getting Powell down was Iowa's own Jordan Walsh.) In the end, Iowa had 13 different players with a reception.
Figure Out the Back Seven
The good news…Greg Mabin turned out to be better than expected (with an interception and a pass breakup) and Desmond King is still a stud, so the cornerback position is very solid. The back seven also produced two interceptions, both at critical points in the game.
The bad news though…There were some pretty big and glaring breakdowns between the linebackers and the safeties. Johnson running up the seam is the stuff nightmares are made of. It felt like the majority of UNI’s completions came with a linebacker trailing a step or two behind the receiver.
I think Iowa did find the right personnel, though. As mentioned Mabin looks the part, and former walk-on that nobody have even heard of until recently Bo Bower was a bright spot at LB. The other three new faces (though Jordan Lomax started last year at CB before getting hurt) were at least very good in run support. Lomax came up and helped clean up on a lot of tackles (9 total, 7 assisted) and Quinton Alston and Reggie Spearman combined for 12 tackles with 2 TFLs and a sack.
Exploit the Mismatches
The biggest mismatch of the day was Iowa’s defensive tackles against UNI’s interior offensive line. Carl Davis was a constant disruptive force and required a lot of double teams. This left Louis Trinca-Pasat room to wreak havoc. He led the team with in tackles with 10, tackles for loss with 3, and sacks with 1.5. That’s a huge day for a DT.
With the Hawks winning that battle up front, UNI was completely unable to run the ball. They averaged 1.0 yards per carry on 25 attempts. That’s a winning number.
Iowa was able to exploit this advantage more as the game wore on. The UNI offensive line looked tired of blocking the likes of Davis and LTP by the end of the game and Iowa sent in extra pass rushers on blitzes and started pressuring and getting to Sawyer Kollmorgen (5 sacks, 3 QB hurries – Iowa only had 24 sacks all of last season and an abysmal 13 the year before, so 5 is off to a very good start).
Just Win and Move On
Done. Moving on.
You can bet Ball State and every team going forward until Iowa figures out a way to stop it, are going to try to exploit the seam. Iowa won’t face a back as good as Johnson until probably late November, but the problem needs to be, and hopefully will be addressed this week (maybe some nickel...I was a little surprised they didn't go to it at the end of the game). I think UNI is a better team than Ball State (especially with their injuries sustained on Saturday) and certainly Iowa State (also with a couple of tough injuries), so hopefully the next two weeks won’t be as excruciating. Knowing Iowa Football though, they will be.